Here is a bit about the tutorial in Homefront. It really is illuminating to compare Homefront to Portal 2. Completely unfair and mean, but illuminating. It’s like comparing Waterworld to Avatar, only moreso. In both cases you have big budget production values and big budget marketing. Lack of success can only be attributed to a failure of artistry.
The differences between Portal 2 and Homefront are stark and immediate. Portal 2 has a seamless tutorial that teaches the player to play the game without breaking immersion, generating frustration, or constricting player actions. Homefront is a ham-fisted drill where you are force-fed basic game mechanics at the expense of the characters and the setting.
There is nothing inherent to Homefront that would have doomed it from inception. You can make an excellent videogame about a United States that has been knocked down by an EMP and is now fighting for survival. War games set in the modern era have the problem where most western nations are technologically advanced and well-funded. If movies have taught us anything, it’s that people love to cheer for the underdog. Here we can have a home-turf war where regular folks are fighting against a stronger enemy. That’s bound to resonate more with players more than another round of “Ace McWhitebread, Special-Forces Badass vs. The Drug Lords and Terrorists of Non-Descriptistan”.
(Some people quite reasonably stated that the game doesn’t interest them because they aren’t from the U.S. and so the whole “home turf” thing is lost on them. I don’t doubt this, although I can’t understand how Modern Warfare or its ilk manage to do so well. Certainly it’s even less appealing to play as a U.S. soldier than a U.S. citizen? I know I found the scenes of destruction to be gut-wrenching in Half-Life 2. I certainly didn’t look around and say, “Bah. Quasi-Europe. Who cares?”)
The point is: This could have been a tremendous game, and it failed because the designers simply failed on a fundamental level to make something people want to play. I think the Valve secret is simply playtesting. In most development houses, they think of “playtesting” as “Quality Assurance”: Have people run the game through the hardware gauntlet and make sure it works. But playtesting should also include some outside voices. Not artists, not programmers, not QA engineers, and definitely not people from marketing. Bring in some people from your intended audience, watch them play, and interview them later. You will very quickly find out what people do and do not like. Take that feedback and put it into your design. It’s clear that this wasn’t done at all for Homefront. None of these blockheaded design choices would have survived even a single round of playtesting.
I know slowing development makes games cost more, but when the difference in quality is this profound, it just doesn’t make sense to not do it. Those last couple of months are where the game begins to shine. It’s obvious devlopers care about review scores. It’s suicide to ignore the one thing that could actually improve them. Budget those two months at the outset of the project, and guard them jealously. Have some people try the game out at the halfway point, and see if there are any obvious failures in your design. Doing so could be the difference between making the next Heavenly Sword, Homefront, or Mirror’s Edge, and launching the next blockbuster franchise.
(I know I strayed a little close to politics here. If I rubbed you the wrong way, please forgive me and move on. I don’t want the comments to be a referendum on the U.S., its people, or foreign policy. Thanks.)
Starcraft: Bot Fight
Let's do some scripting to make the Starcraft AI fight itself, and see how smart it is. Or isn't.
Lost Laughs in Leisure Suit Larry
Why was this classic adventure game so funny in the 80's, and why did it stop being funny?
A video Let's Play series I collaborated on from 2009 to 2017.
A screencap comic that poked fun at videogames and the industry. The comic has ended, but there's plenty of archives for you to binge on.
Crash Dot Com
Back in 1999, I rode the dot-com bubble. Got rich. Worked hard. Went crazy. Turned poor. It was fun.